Good news! Our second panelist from the Top-Down Knitalong has finished her sweater! Here’s the eternally sparkly Brandi Harper of purlBknit to tell us about her truly improvised cardigan—
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You were the panelist being the most artistic and improvisational about this whole thing, literally making it up as you went. As you said in the introductions “No swatch, no planning, no sketches involved.” You were working on a scarf when I announced the knitalong and decided to turn the scarf into a cardigan. Then at the midway check-in, you were changing the sleeve length and side panels, and even talking about converting the cardigan to a pullover. Tell us about the shape the sweater eventually took.
Hiiii guuuuys! I fell completely and totally in love after I did the final fitting. It was a cardigan through and through. I was worried it was going to be too “busy” and detailed to be a cardigan. So wrong. The color and shape makes for the perfect layering piece and I can dress it up or down!
After the last panel update I had to rip back to where I separated the yoke from the sleeves. The decision to cast on 8 sts under the armhole to create a gusset was not rooted in any math — it just felt good in the woo woo sense. I have a thing for certain numbers. Lesson to all my knitters out there: check that gauge, baby! I don’t know why I’m being so stubborn, but I still haven’t checked my tension. Everything you see is literally the result of me just winging it, trying it on, ripping out, taking educated guesses on shaping to fit my body and doing what looked right.
In the end, it is a cardigan with no official closure yet (and I am in no rush to make those decisions since I want to wear it NOW), slightly belled sleeves, A-line shaping to accommodate my hips and a large shawl-like collar.
The sweater began with traditional raglan shaping, correct? But then you got creative with the rest of the construction. What are some of the less traditional (or more inventive) construction methods you employed along the way?
The neck, body and sleeves up until the underarm are knit in one piece from the top down, using traditional raglan shaping. I increased 8 sts every other row using yarnovers. The rest of the body and the sleeves are knit flat. I like the structure and look of mattress stitch seaming.
I picked up hundreds of stitches around the fronts and bottom edge, going two needle sizes down and *picking up 3 sts, skipping 1 space; rep from * till all stitches were picked up to avoid buckling. If you look closely, you’ll see a ridge between the body and border. That’s 2 garter stitches! When you pick up stitches, sometimes there will be a seam on the wrong side. I instead picked up behind those stitches to add an extra detail to the right side. I worked about 2 inches of border before starting the short rows to construct the collar. After I bound off, I accented and reinforced the entire trim with a row of twisted slipstitch created with a crochet hook.
On the side panel of the body along the increases, I picked up and made a stitch between the reverse stockinette and lace pattern using a small crochet hook. I use this technique often in my patterns to neaten up areas. It also affects the overall structure of a piece and sometimes creates a wavy edge at the bottom!
I played around with a few sleeve trims and really liked the look of a few rows of single crochet topped off with crab stitch.
How do you feel about your process — listening to where the sweater seemed to want to go rather than trying to impose an idea on it? Good times? Good results? Did it leave you wanting to knit that way more often, or just the opposite?
I tend to have a love/hate relationship with many of my ideas during the design process. I play around a lot with construction and rarely follow patterns, so there is a lot of trail and error. It can get annoying to have to keep ripping out, but that is what I love most about knitting too. I can fix and learn from my mistakes. I had a lot of good times with this piece — especially since it started off in Portugal, followed by the Netherlands in celebration of my birthday —but there were also times when I literally threw it to the side mad like “just look nice already dammit!!!” LOL. I’m looking at it now and I couldn’t be more excited about it. Looking forward to more freestyle knitting definitely.
Our friends at Purl Soho provided the yarn for your sweater (thank you, Purl!), which is their Flax Down, and you’ve knitted it into a beautiful allover lace. And you wound up knitting more sweater (more yarn) than you originally envisioned. Do you feel like the yarn has turned out to be the right match for what the sweater grew into? And for the stitch pattern you employed?
Give me all the Flax Down give it to me now! Thank you Purl! I ended up using about six and a half balls. I am totally impressed with the yardage given the size of this sweater. After blocking it and steaming the border, I was literally hopping on my toes with a very giddy ahhhhhhh!!!!! I love this yarn so much. Knowing it will wash and wear well is the best part. The drape is really flowy (that’s a word for sure spell check) and silky. ADORE.
I know you’ve got holiday knitting to do for purlBknit, but you mentioned in the intros that this was the first sweater you’ve designed for yourself in four years. Will you be doing it again soon?
I definitely won’t be selling this sweater, since I’m really excited about writing the pattern! It won’t be published anytime soon due to all the details and the time it takes to scale for different sizes, but it’s on the to-do list. In the meantime, I am doing research on macramé techniques that will make for a sturdy belt to close it up when needed. Also envisioning three dusty pink mother-of-pearl post buttons to bring the collar up into a turtleneck. The eyelets will make for great buttonholes. I have another sweater already in the works that came about during the proofing of my Shawl Collar pattern, so yes yes yes, sweater knitting is definitely in my near future. Thank you so much, Karen, for making this piece possible! You are made up of unicorn magic.
Aw, shucks. ;) Thank you so much for joining the panel, Brandi! For more photos (and a teaser video!) of Brandi’s killer cardigan, follow @purlbknit on Instagram.
Jen and I are still knitting — as are lots of others on the #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 feed — so stay tuned!
PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: FO No. 1 Jess Schreibstein
Brandi’s sweater is ART. Damn girl! You inspire us all. Thank you Karen for choosing this gem of the knitting world to share her process with us. You all make it hard to look at a pattern without wondering, “how can I do that better?”
Good golly I LOVE that shape!
Wow Brandi – you are a true artist. This sweater is beautiful AND interesting. What occurs, though, as I’ve read about your process, is that you are exceedingly knowledgeable about construction and knitting. You may like to wing it in the moment, but you have the chops. I suspect your method would be a disaster for most people without your background!
That sweater is amazing! I am in awe of her process and creativity!
that COLLAR!!!!! WOW
Yeah this improvised sweater is pretty inspirational. Love it.
I love everything about this-such great texture and attention to detail! Brandi’s process sounds very similar to mine. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who wings it :)
What an astounding project — so magical, so inventive. I too am in awe.
Love it so much! You a design-artist-extraordinaire, Brandi!
This is an amazing sweater! Most of my own knitting is without a pattern and from the top down. This sweater inspires me to think further outside the box…
Wow, wow, WOW!
Totally awesome !
In love with this cardigan! Brandi created a knockout staple wardrobe pieces. I am thrilled there will be a pattern. 😍
She is the knitter I want to be! I want to knit this!
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Truly a piece of Art! Great job! You are so talented. Looking forward to the pattern release.